Every four years, a new breed of determined youngsters make their way to the world's most competitive arena with one dream in mind - To compete against the world's best athletes and make their country proud by bringing home the Olympic gold medal. This year is no different. On the eve of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, here are a few of the many youngsters you will be cheering on starting tomorrow, and for many years to come.
Tom Daley (Diving)
With his signature charismatic smile, 18-year old Tom Daley may seem like a normal laid back teenager. However, don't let his easy-going facade fool you. While most athletes his age are heading to the Olympics for the first time, Tom is already on his second stint. And this time around, he intends to accomplish what he was unable to do at the 2008 Beijing Olympics - Bring home the gold for Great Britain.
Lily Zhang And Ariel Hsing (Table Tennis)
Table tennis is usually a sport dominated by China and Korea. However, this summer they are destined to face some real tough competition from the USA thanks to these two youngsters. Already considered table tennis prodigies, the Northern California teens that practice at the same arena, already have a number of accolades under their belt.
April Hsing rose to fame when she became the national under-10 table tennis champion at the tender age of 8 - A year after she was officially introduced to the sport. With two additional national championships under her belt, including the 2011 women's single title, this 16-year old is ready for the big games.
Fellow team member Lily Tsang (also 16), is no pushover either. The 2011 US National Junior Champion rose to fame in 2009 when at the age of 12, she became the youngest person ever, to qualify for the US Table Tennis Team. The two along with their third teenage teammate Erica Hu, now have one mission in mind - To bring home the first ever Olympic gold in the sport, for USA.
Gabby Douglas (Gymnastics)
In a sport dominated by teenagers, Gabby Douglas stands out. Nicknamed Flying Squirrel because of her amazing release technique on the uneven bar routine, the 16-year old has been doing perfect cartwheels since she was three years old. After watching the 2008 Olympics she became convinced that Liang Qiao, that led the US squad and was also balance beam gold medalist Shawn Johnson's personal coach, was the one to take her to the promised land, i.e. the Olympics. In order to fulfill her dream, she had to leave her family and move in with a foster family to West Des Moines, Iowa. But the determined girl persevered and this year, won the only guaranteed spot on the Olympic team after winning the U.S. Olympic trials - Next up? A gold medal as dazzling as her beautiful smile!
Alejandra Valencia (Archery)
The 17-year old Sonora, Mexico native's introduction to archery was quite accidental. Thanks to her impressive height she had always been encouraged to pursue track and field, basketball or cycling. One day her sister met with a minor accident whilst they were both practicing cycling. The incident happened to be witnessed by archery coach Miguel Angel Flores, who was seeking out people for his team. The coach assured them that archery was a safer sport and convinced them to try it out. The rest as they as, is history. While she could not even aim accurately at a bale of hay when she first began, Alejandra knew she had found her sport, as soon as, she picked up the bow and arrow. The archery queen impressed the world by winning two gold medals - one individual and one team at the 2011 Pan American Games and is now hoping to repeat the performance at the 2012 Olympics!
Missy Franklin (Swimming)
This 17-year-old swimmer who is set to represent the US in seven events is often compared to 14-Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. And its not just because she is good or has a chance of bringing home seven gold's (almost as many as Phelps did in 2008), but also, because just like him she seems to have a body that is built for the sport. The 6.1 foot tall teen who says she feels like a dolphin, sports a 6.4 inch wingspan which help her cut across the pool water at an incredible speed. Also helpful, are her giant, size 13-feet - which act as the perfect flippers! Between her and Michael Phelps who is also competing in seven events, team USA could bring home a whopping 14 gold medals for just this one sport!
Do you have a favorite teen or any Olympic athlete that inspires you? If so, be sure to let us know by adding your comments below!
Resources: swimswam.com, news.yahoo.com, washingtonpost.com,espn.go.com